As an outspoken advocate for the building trades and all they can do for our nation’s young people I have to say it has been a constant effort to spread the word locally and on the national level that trade school should be considered right alongside a four year college program.

Most of you know that I have been an instructor for the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters, Welders and HVAC Service Techs for a number of years. In fact I just closed the books on two classes a couple weeks ago; each very different than the other in respect to the apprentice’s experience level. This year was only the second time I have had first year, brand new apprentices in my class as apposed to past years when each class I have taught was either 5th year students or licensed journeyman.

For just about as long as I have been instructing in the apprenticeship program I have asked each of my students why they chose to join the trades. You might imagine there have been a variety of answers, but a few seem to come up more often than others: My father/uncle/grandpa is in the trades and I thought I’d give it a try; I didn’t know what I wanted to do and the pay seemed pretty good; and college is too expensive and/or I don’t do very well in school.

I have asked this question of both experienced, licensed tradespersons and apprentices with little to no surprise when I hear their answer; year in and year out. So, what has our industry done to change this? Is there anything that can be done? Will private and state universities continue to market to our youth at a level not closely matched by trade organizations to further indoctrinate the notion that college readiness and higher education are the only path to a well paying career?

As an owner of a small plumbing and hydronics contracting company in central Minnesota I am troubled by the underlying assumptions that going directly from high school to a good job is undesirable, or that an interest in the trades is an admittance of defeat for anyone with half a working brain or any amount of aptitude.

The future of our nation relies heavily on those who choose to steer clear of the typical school system’s embrace on “college readiness” and instead choose a challenging career that requires little more than a high school diploma. The building trades can, and do provide a lifetime of learning; anyone working in the trades can attest to the need to constantly seek additional skills and knowledge for continued and successful employment.

If our industry is going to recruit the best possible candidates to fill the many positions available, we need to focus on the ever-growing demand for highly skilled workers. Those potential candidates need to be sought out at career days or job fairs. Sure some organizations are already and have been doing this for quite some time, but a greater emphasis needs to be put on the types of tools our plumbers and HVAC techs are using everyday.

We need to show up with an expensive laptop and Building Informational software (BIM) because that is what so many our fellow workers are using to perform their jobs each day. The notion that all kids want today is to have an expensive phone in their hand and hard work is not part of their plan only ignores the reality that so much of what we do on the jobsite incorporates the high end technology these kids already love.

My iPhone, along with the new infrared camera I can attach to it has not only opened up doors of new business opportunity but seemingly fits some of the desires of today’s youth. Seriously, the iPhone/infrared camera combo is not only very technical but very cool! We need to change the way we are getting the word out, we need to recruit using the tools from within our business that will conjure the interests of our desired applicants and we need to do it in full force. I’d love to hire the next high school graduate that is eager to learn and to get their hands on each of my most expensive tools in the shop; there’s a job open for them here in Minnesota and I’m sure elsewhere as well.

Please feel free to contact me if you have anything further to add on this topic. If you are working for or with a trade organization I am eager to hear what you are doing to recruit new workers, and I’d love to collaborate with you to build a stronger campaign that furthers your success.

Eric Aune started Aune Plumbing LLC in 2004 and specializes in residential and small commercial hydronic heating systems and service. He is a graduate of Dunwoody College of Technology and Plumbers Local 15, Minneapolis Apprenticeship Training Program, and is currently a United Association Instructor and teaches for the Plumbers Local 15 JATC. Aune is also founding partner and vice president of mechanical-hub.com. Contact him at: eaune@mechanical-hub.com.